Since my last post on this topic, I’ve accumulated more proof that getting older and becoming curmudgeonly/peculiar are inextricably linked (but maybe the self-awareness is somewhat mitigating?) The latest evidence:
I try to steer clear of whining about the physical decline inherent in midlife, because it’s so cliche.
Me, formerly flawless and well-lit.
But I recently experienced a moment of reckoning in a fitting room at Lord & Taylor, where I was all alone with fluorescent lighting and a three-way mirror. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My 46-year-old self stared back at me in all directions. Who knew I had a little pouchy chin thing, plus the beginnings of the weirdness that happens to one’s neck–not to mention less-than-taut upper arms? Not me. Until then.
I walked out of L&T dazed and confused, and without having purchased anything. (I might have bought something had the lighting been less brutal. Seriously–has no one done market research and found that women will buy things if the dressing rooms are designed to flatter, not to appall??)
In my disoriented, highly vulnerable state, I wandered into one of the three Sephora stores near my office. (There seems to be a 1:1 ratio of Sephora to Starbucks stores lately.)
I’ve worn makeup since I was in junior high school, back when my skin was a creamy, smooth blank slate, open to subtle enhancement via a bottle of Maybelline Kissing Potion roll-on lip gloss and a streak of eyeliner inside the lower lids (remember that technique, gals my age?) A spritz of Love’s Baby Soft and I was good to go.
Now, at my advanced age, enhancement is the least of it. Correction is what it’s about, and Sephora is all over that, with displays devoted to wrinkle fillers, concealers, and the newest word in corrective makeup: Primers. These are all designed to bring your face back to a flaw-free baseline so that it can receive the more frivolous embellishments like eyeshadow and lipstick.
It seemed exciting at first, to think I could erase all my facial flaws simply by purchasing a few tubes and jars, but I soon experienced what I call the orange-juice dilemma, which goes like this: When I was a girl there was one kind of orange juice. From concentrate, period. Now, you can choose from OJ with some pulp, no pulp, a little pulp, tons of pulp, with calcium, without acid, with other kinds of juices, etc. Should you want no pulp, yet tons of calcium, or a little pulp with a soupcon of pineapple juice, you are screwed. It is truly panic-inducing (or is it just me?) and I often find it easier to go without OJ than be forced to prioritize like that.
With the face-fixers, it’s the same thing. Sure, you can have a perfect face, if you can decide which flaw to prioritize. Wrinkles? Redness? Age spots? Crepey eyelids? Dark circles? Shrinking lips? Acne scars? Oily skin? Dry skin? No skin? No one product seems to do it all, yet the time and money commitment involved in covering even a few bases seems mind-boggling.
I decided to start small, with a concealer that has two components. The first one “neutralizes” discoloration and the second layer does, um… something else. I forgot what, exactly, but I know it works because it cost $28, not including the special brush, which was only half that price.
Of all the challenges that working full time has thrown my way, I am most plagued by the getting of groceries—where to get them, when to get them, and how to get them into my home from wherever they originate.
For almost a decade, I’ve been a member of a fabulous food co-op. The prices are amazing, the produce is amazing–but the amount of time, effort and psychic distress involved in membership is also, well, amazing. In order to reap the financial and health rewards the co-op offers, you pay in other ways. You have to work there for 2 hours and 45 minutes every four weeks; if you’re me, you have to figure out how to get there now that you rarely have use of a car, because the co-op is over a mile away. And the process of shopping can take hours, especially if the checkout person is new and doesn’t know her celeriac from her lacinato kale.
When I was a freelancer, I shopped at off-hours and it was manageable, but now that I work full time, it’s impossible to continue as a co-op member. Letting go is not easy. There’s a cult-like quality to belonging that makes it hard to leave the fold. I feel like an Amish teenager in rumspringa. But it had to happen. I had to leave, to experience food shopping as most of the country does.
As with any loss, the first phase was denial–which manifested itself in me as an inability to shop anywhere. I found it hard to buy food, period. I felt dirty shopping at a regular supermarket, with its clogging trans fats, its cheap-whore-like red delicious apples, its plethora of plastic bags. Where was the bok choy—the beautiful bouncing baby bok choy like they have at the co-op? Even worse, the supermarket has the exact same feta cheese we got at the co-op, only it costs two dollars more. Two. Dollars. More.
I decided that the girls and I would forego food completely. I mean, really, it’s such a time suck—the shopping, the cooking, the endless chewing and digesting. Couldn’t we just consume very nutritious shakes and vitamins and leave it at that? I was annoyed every time the girls asked me for a snack. “Well, there’s that sprouting potato on the counter, or–hello–what about the mulberry tree out back? Anyway, do you really need to keep eating, again and again and again? It’s so common. Get over it.”
Supported by takeout, I moved through that phase and, for a few weeks, I was able to shop at the supermarket, though only in an aggressive co-op backlash mode. When I came home with Reese’s Puffs cereal and Tostitos, the girls were thrilled, though clearly worried about me. Eventually, even they confessed to missing the healthy, wheaty, crunchy stuff.
During this difficult time, ads for Fresh Direct seemed to lurk everywhere, promising to deliver freakishly photogenic foodstuffs right to my door. Naturally, I was suspicious. It seemed too good to be true.
And then, last week, it all came to a head. The potato on the countertop was growing branches worthy of a treehouse. The ancient capers in the side of the fridge door seemed like viable dinner fixins. Finally, I caved and placed an order online with FD. And it was a revelation–no lines, no car, no store to think about! If I have to live on supermarket food, this is the way to do it. I can shop online whenever I want and the food is brought to my door–in 100% recycled boxes, no less, which almost makes up for the lack of exotic vegetables.
Yesterday, our second Fresh Direct order arrived, just as we were finishing up a legitimate dinner whipped up with ingredients from the first one. When I saw the delivery guy at the door, it was as though Prince Charming had arrived on his horse (or in this case, a white refrigerated truck).
My daughter, noticing my glee, said, “Chill, Mom. It’s not Santa Claus.”
Oh, but for a single mother who works full time, it is. It is!
(Fyi, I was not paid by Fresh Direct or anyone else to write this.)
Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware that I am not young anymore. It’s not just the obvious, cliche stuff like the chronic back pain, the chronic need for reading glasses, the chronic need for the word chronic, and the conviction that plastic surgery isn’t all that crazy. It’s other, subtler things that catch me off guard and force me to acknowledge my advancing age.
I now shop at Lord & Taylor. For years, I’ve teased my mother, who has been loyal to L&T since the days of well-made pencil skirts and Kelly Girls. Now I happen to work a few blocks away from the grand old department store. After a frustrating experience on Zappos.com last week, I decided to take a twirl through L&T’s shoe department. Well, no sooner did I enter the second floor “shoe salon” when a pleasant young woman asked me if she could help me. And then, by god, she helped me! She was totally there for me, graciously bringing every shoe I asked for in two sizes, just in case the shoe in question ran small or large. I just can’t get over it. I ended up buying a pair of flats and a pair of sparkly sandals. Soon I plan to return to the store for foundation garments.
Sometimes I stare at my cell phone in pure wonderment—at how tiny it is–so small and shiny and lozenge-like that I could swallow it without much effort. Why, when I was a child, you had to hold a clunky barbell of a receiver in order to chat on the phone. And it was attached by a curly cord to an even clunkier base unit (did that have a name?) You couldn’t even leave the room, let alone wander into a cafe and obliviously order a tall Sumatran blend while blabbing. In those days, too, the phones rang–with a real, mechanical ring, not one of 500 freaking ADD-inducing ringtones. In fact, there was no such thing as a ringtone. Don’t even get me started on my iPod Shuffle; When I was a girl, the Sony Walkman was beyond cool and sleek.
I’m attracted to men in their 50s. When R and I first separated, a friend of mine tried to sell me on her belief that 51-year-old men were the sexiest of all. I tried to be polite about it, but I was secretly thinking Ew. Gross. Can you say “grandpa?” But I have totally come around on that one. Among the men who manage to emerge from their 40s without having gone to seed, there are quite a few who are–to use a juvenile term–hot. (George Clooney, anyone? Ed Harris? Liam Neeson? Jeff Bridges, despite the beard?) Men in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s look weird, babyish and unformed to me now. What’s with the unlined faces, the lack of gray hair and all that? I obviously have no future as a cougar. I like my men slightly craggy and weathered.
I’ve said the following to my kids: “Can you see in that light?” “You’re not leaving the house wearing that.” and “One day you’ll appreciate me.”
When the Land’s End swim suit catalogue arrives, I keep it, rather than chuck it immediately into recycling. What’s worse, I flip right to the bathing suits with skirts. This year, I’m hoping to find one with OLD LADY printed across the butt.
On Friday during my lunch hour, I went shopping for a birthday present for R on the girls’ behalf. As usual, they had grand ideas about what they wanted to get their dad–all of which were way out of my price/affection range–and no ideas about when we would actually have time to do the shopping required in the 24 remaining hours prior to his birthday.
I tried to convince them that the most meaningful gift would be something they made with their dear little daughterly hands–something out of Sculpey, maybe? (I love Sculpey, btw.) I should have just pinned a “kick me” sign on my butt, given the withering, disgusted looks that sweet suggestion inspired from my teenager. (Sometimes I worry that her eyes will roll so high into her head, we’ll have to go to the ER.)
So, fine, I offered to grab R a shirt on their behalf—a shirt being the default 11th-hour gift for all men.
This is the kind of task that you still have to do even when you’re no longer married to your kids’ father. Even if you don’t care anymore about appropriately acknowledging your ex’s birthday, you need to make sure your kids do.
And if you’re me, such an exercise reminds you that you did care once, which leads to having a blog-worthy experience in the men’s shirt department at H&M. (No, nothing like that.)
In the old days, back when I loved R, I would have spent weeks trying to find the perfect item, even if it was just a pair of socks, even if it required me to splurge on something at Barney’s or Bergdorf Men. I would not have dashed into the closest, cheapest store I could find, hell-bent on getting out of there with enough time to eat my sandwich in the park.
But, because I tend to analyze everything to death, I became profoundly aware of my ever-shifting level of investment in the shirt purchase. Here are a few of the thoughts that went through my head: